Cool dungeons in books

The Frost Dungeon

They descended for a long while. The stair spiraled down with no terminus in sight. The light seemed to lead them. The walls grew damp, cold, colder, coming to be covered with a fine patina of frost figures.
Roger Zelazny – Dilvish, the Damned

I like the idea of sensory details, like temperature, informing a dungeon, and there are a lot of dungeon tricks that can be done with ice, especially if one of the PC is a fireball-toting wizard. Furthermore, if the PCs are defeated in an ice dungeon, they’re sure to wake up hanging upside down from the ceiling just as a Wampa beast shows up for dinner.

The Star Labyrinth

“As for myself, in my early years I beamed through the star-labyrinth many times. Why, once I accompanied Priestess Poogli all the way to–”
Emil Petaja – The Nets of Space

Just as the ocean is a dungeon, space can be a dungeon. Let’s say that each star leads only to 2-3 other stars (because of stargates, distance, spice, or some other such nonsense). The PC’s space ship, spelljammer, or astral kayak is essentially plying a space dungeon, with planetary systems as rooms and navigation routes as corridors.

“The Star Labyrinth” is also a cool name. As cool as Princess Poogli? Hard to say.

The Drowned City

Riding along the fringes of this wild place, Orisian could see, faint in its misty heart, the ruined towers of old Kan Avor. The broken turrets and spires of the drowned city rose above the waters like a ghostly ship on the sea’s horizon.
-Brian Ruckley – Godless World: Winterbirth

A half-submerged city is not a completely unique adventure locale: many platformer video games have a water dungeon where you have to pull levers to change the water level. It’s still a cool spot, and if the PCs have to do some dangerous diving to get to the entrance of a half-submerged tower, you can give them some interesting challenges on the way up the tower: a time limit based on holding your breath, for instance. Another fun aspect of amphibious adventuring is that swimming PCs can easily escape water-only enemies, like sharks, and air-only enemies, like birds. You can use this to introduce some difficult puzzle enemies: if the fight is impossible, the PCs can easily submerge, or emerge, to safety.


4 Responses to “Cool dungeons in books”

  1. Michael (Gronan) Mornard says:

    Well, two of Gary’s archetypal examples were “Red Nails” by Robert E. Howard and “Quarmall” by Fritz Leiber.

  2. paul paul says:

    Those two locations are interesting because, while they might be echoing stone labyrinths, they are inhabited by warring NPCs factions. Smart money is on negotiating with at least one faction, not just killing everyone you see.

    I know that in some of the Gygax-written modules, dungeons were inhabited by monster factions with which you could profitably negotiate. Mike, do you remember ever running into this in the Greyhawk game?

  3. like the star labyrinth (and not just because of the awesome name) – for some reason I find that players are more willing to accept the artificial reason (stargates or jump points or whatever) for the ‘dungeon’s’ restrictions when it comes to space than they are on a ship in the sea. Maybe it’s because space is so far outside of normal experience you don’t have things like realism getting in the way.

  4. […] game session, doesn’t it?  Thinking about A Lonely Place to Die (and reading Blog of Holding’s latest post about the ‘star labyrinth’), made me rethink my notions of overland travel and wilderness encounters in D&D (I’ve always […]

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